How To Be A Better Coach
It's time for a youth sport coach development model that rivals that of athlete development. We explore 5 pillars to that model.
Regardless of the age bracket, becoming a good coach requires the development of multiple skills.
While we work with our kids to develop physically and mentally, learn how to compete, work hard, be disciplined, work hard help them strive to be better, are we holding ourselves as coaches to the same standards?
Practicing the skills that will improve performance, dealing with different situations, handling disappointment, thinking under pressure, communication skills are all part of what we teach our athletes, yet do we as coaches do the same?
We ask our athletes to take care of their bodies, their mind and respect others yet we often see coaches who don’t move well, have physically let themselves go, lose their temper at officials and drink too much at tournaments.
A developmental approach to being a better coach requires the exact same mindset and approach we teach our athletes. We would not expect our athletes to draw only the experience from last year to be better this year, yet that is the route many coaches take from year to year.
More and more organizations are offering coaching clinics, and this is a great step in the right direction. Coaches are already volunteering a ton of time to provide the best experience possible for our youth, so to ask more is difficult. Providing a more rounded model may be a more efficient way.
The foundation to being a better coach starts with a developmental model that touches more bases in ensuring positive experiences and more participation.
Here are some foundational principles to a coaching development model:
1. Strive for fun
70% of all youth quit youth sports by the time they hit 13 years old. Why? It’s not fun.
In coaching kids 6-10 years old, fun means adventure. Discovery. New activities, movements, sports, friends and experiences.
This age group does not have the experiences in school around developing basic movement skills, and without them many sports are not that fun. Without some physical skills and relative strength, many will struggle with basic requirements of the sport.
A coach having fun at this age with his young athletes will include activities that develop these areas and not just focus on the sport skills.
Jumping, hoping, balance, twisting, turning, chasing, speeding up, slowing down, running forward backwards, side to side are all part of the skillset that will help performance in any sport. Improved performance means more fun.
Having practice plans that allow kids to discover and develop will improve the fun factor. Kids need to move at this stage. And yes, you can teach competitive skills while teaching movement and building strength. Timing a young one’s performance in a drill and striving to improve on that from practice to practice will instill a desire to improve. Kids love to practice what gets measured.
At 11-13 years old, fun takes on a different dimension. If basic physical skills are still not there, then there is still time to incorporate that into practice. We see this in many sports where there are big discrepancies in size and relative strength in these kids.
Not much we can do about size, but we can teach and practice relative strength and movement efficiency. Running and stopping requires strength, so does any other sport skill on the list.
Fun goes up when we connect movement competency in the sport with skill development.
This is still a good time to try different sports.
Fun diminishes when overload on one sport at too young an age.
The young person who can throw 70mph at 12 years old will need to slow down a little if they want to enjoy that skill for many years or they will get injured, and learn to dislike the rehab process and the sport and eventually leave.
As coaches, we see this a lot. The skilled young athlete who is a few steps ahead of the others at a young age is overused, then injured, then leaves the sport either voluntarily or not. Helping with their development and fun factor, means slowing the process down.
For those over 14, fun can mean ongoing skill development and perhaps more focus on activities they really enjoy.
The only ones still playing at this age are the ones who had fun in the last 8 years of youth sport, so our job is to continue to challenge our athletes and build them up so they can continue to enjoy the sport for years to come. Ongoing work on building self confidence and self esteem as well as the mental skills go along with the development of physical skills.
The more fun our athletes have, the better coaches we are.
2. Connection with athletes and families.
The athletes and families have made the commitment to invest time and money so johnny/suzy can grow as people and benefit from the experience of playing a sport.
If we coach long enough, it is very easy to lose sight of the fact that most of your athletes are people first with their strengths, weaknesses, experiences, ambitions and expectations.
Getting to know our athletes is a cornerstone to building trust. It is through trust that youth players accept the message of the coach and practice in as part of their development.
Understanding the personality of your players, how they communicate, what they respond to and don’t all come from getting to know them.
Family history and background contributes in helping connect with your players.
As coaches, we are leaders but people first. Showing our human side allows for your players to understand you a little and again builds that trust.
Connecting takes effort. It needs to be a priority. Showing interest is not something that can be faked.
Connection requires communication skills. Communication skills need to be assessed and practiced in order to improve.
3. Define expectations.
Defining expectations is probably the single most proactive and beneficial element to creating a positive experience for those we coach.
The expectations can be similar and more rigid depending on the age group, but they need to be defined.
For the players, they are about social skills, physical preparation, punctuality, work ethic, dress code, behavior on the field of play. They also need to include (depending on age), the expectations around use of phone, respect for coaches and code of conduct.
Expectations also need to be defined for parents. Unfortunately, few parents have spoiled it for many in terms of behavior. Fundamentally, parents want the best for their kids. Setting expectations on topics like objectives, the role of winning and playing time as well as social media, criticism of others, handling conflict are just some of the topics where expectations need to be very, very clear.
Once the bar is set, it is much easier to navigate bumps in the road as they become the benchmark for the experience.
This is where communicating a coaching philosophy also comes into play. Different philosophies are more relevant at different ages. Winning a championship is not an appropriate philosophy at any age of youth sport. Even at the very elite levels of preparing athletes for college and pro, winning as a philosophy and expectation is not the benchmark of a good coach.
4. Be able to teach the skills of the sport.
A great way to build respect with your players is to be able to help them do better. A coach can be defined as someone who trains someone in a particular sport. Training someone is teaching.
A good coach will break down footwork, and specific skills that make up performance. Training a young athlete to move quicker involves more than asking them to run fast, too often instructions often provided on the sports field.
So while it seems obvious, it is not always simple to achieve. Breaking down the fundamental skills and helping our athletes execute better is the foundation to being a good coach.
Once this foundation is set, then the athlete can decide how much they want to practice in their improvement.
5. Surround yourself with good people & delegate.
It is almost impossible for 1 coach to give the instruction needed to 10 ore more athletes in any given practice session.
Having supporting coaches to assist with different aspects of preparation prior to , the in game experience define a good coach.
The coach who tries to serve all him or herself tends to miss a lot, regardless of the age group of the young athletes.
The impact a coach can have on a young athlete and family is significant. Ultimately, the experience of participating in sport being positive or negative lies in the hands of the coach. While the overwhelming amount of coaches volunteer and do so with very honorable intentions, the massive drop out rate at around age 13 means something is off.
This is not to imply the coaches are the reason for this drop off, however, they can be the reason more fun be had and will impact participation and healthier lifestyles of those we teach and lead.
Being a good coach can result from following a developmental model very similar to what we are trying to teach our young athletes.